“Not every gift has to be expensive or extravagant. In fact, sometimes it’s the sweet and simple things that make a real difference in our lives. Think back and tell us about something you received as a gift and why it meant so much to you.”
Sometimes, the simplest things can truly mean the most. And in this case, they can also help you win the most. Our Sweet and Simple Scholarship provides a pretty sweet prize for students who take a little time to appreciate the small things. See our past winners and their scholarship responses below.
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How could someone be so kindhearted towards a stray Spanish-speaking child wandering in the ample aisles of a school library? That was my question as I stared at my first sketchbook. I remember being in second grade: doodling on loose papers as most children do, going to the library often to check out books, and studying in the large, boxy computers. I never anticipated anyone constantly watching me from afar. One day, the librarian with the warm smile and shiny white hair called me over and gave me a black sketchbook, about a third of the size of my body at the time. She whispered to me, “I know how hard you’ve been working and I know you’ll do wonders in here”. She inspired me to continue art throughout my entire life. It’s truly the best way to cope with emotions, especially as a teenager going through stressful and life-changing events. With the sketchbook I was gifted, I filled up the pages and expressed myself with my own creativity. My love of art grew by a simple act of kindness that sparked the flame in my heart and allowed me to win many art competitions and sell my own art to others. I am able to share my talents and hobbies with people all over the world simply because one person decided to make a significant impact in my life. I have dozens of sketchbooks, canvases, and other art supplies, but I still have the sketchbook to this day.
A gift is not always something wrapped up in wrapping paper and accompanied with a card. To me, a gift is anything that will make me smile. I was adopted from China at 13 months old, and I’ve always felt like a part of me is still there. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be in a community that looked like me, and if I would ever be able to connect with my culture. In the months leading up to my sixteenth birthday, my parents knew that it was the perfect time for us to return back to where I was born. We embarked on a ‘return-to-homeland tour’ for adoptive families. The planning and packing leading up to this trip was the most excitement I’ve ever felt.
During the 2 week trip, I met other adoptees who will forever be like family to me. I had the most fun ‘blending in’ with people on the streets, learning the intricate Chinese tea ritual, tasting Peking duck, and climbing The Great Wall. I weirdly felt at home, even though everything in China was foreign to me. I’ve documented all of my memories on this trip, and whenever I’m feeling down, I go back to my journal about China and I smile at the memories I made. This diary is the small package within my big gift. My parents gifted me with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be immersed in my culture, something that they couldn’t offer me back at home in America.
Come outside, my love. I want to show you something.” I follow my grandfather to the porch, curious. The sky is dark and filled with stars. “Do you know,” he says, “the ancients believe the stars to be crystal windows the gods use to watch over humanity.” He points with a trembling finger. “Antares. The red giant. You can tell it’s him by his subtle glow, like fire. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can make out a constellation. ”He traces a pattern. “Connect those stars to form a ladle. The Big Dipper is there. A worthy name, indeed.” He cracks a weak grin. “Which are you most fond of?” I tell him I like the brightest star and he laughs a little. “Sirius, the most brilliant star. He shines brighter than even our sun. From now on, he’s yours. ”Mine? “Tangible gifts are pretty, but only fleetingly. In ten years, you will have forgotten what excitement it once brought you. Unlike them, the beauty of the stars is infinite. That’s why the most valuable of gifts are those you cannot touch.”It would be the last time I’d see my grandfather in person; he returned to his hometown in China and his rapidly deteriorating health prevented him from traveling. Not long after, he died from lung cancer. I was never one to believe in the words of ancient legends, but I choose to believe my grandfather is somewhere behind that crystal glass. And if he’s right, he’ll be there forever.
Christmas is often a depressing time of the year. I’m a single parent and paying out of pocket for nursing school, so there’s hardly ever, any extra money. Finally, I was at a point where school was beginning to seem real. My clinical rotations, would begin few weeks after Christmas. I was nervous, because I had no money for a stethoscope, a vital piece of our uniform. Casually, I posted “my dream stethoscope” on Instagram. I called the stethoscope “the peanut-butter” edition because of the bold, brown body and exquisite, copper lining. It reminded me of a trophy, which I knew wouldn’t be in my possession, anytime soon. Like many, my Instagram is linked to my Facebook, which resulted in a friend from elementary school, reaching out to me. Heather and I talk on occasion about nursing, as she’s been practicing for a few years now. On a frigid, December night, I walked to the mail kiosk, expecting a bill or two but to my surprise, there was a key in my mailbox. The key signified, that there was an unexpected package, for me. Enclosed in the package was a Littman’s Stethoscope; Heather had sent this to me. My vision was so clouded with tears that I could barely read her inscription. She wrote that this was something God, had placed on her heart to do for me. Fast forward to two years later, I’m now a senior in nursing school and I still have my trophy.
In the dim, yellow light of my closet, my father sits on the floor, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia open in his lap. He begins to read, his voice conjuring up images of witches and lions that seem to dance around the room. His deep voice is as steady as a drum as he recounts stories of far off places and fantastic creatures until my eyes begin to grow heavy, the dancing apparitions fading as the night grows late.
Every night my father read me to sleep. Every night, regardless of how exhausted he was from working multiple jobs to provide for his family or his frequent migraines. Regardless of his own wants or the million other things he needed to do, my father took time at the end of the day to be with me. To some, this may seem like something every father does. To me, it is so much more.
The stories my father read to me each night gave me a passion for reading. The sagas he told fostered in me a love for fantasy and adventure. He taught me how to live my life as if I am the heroine of an epic tale, to take chances and be brave like the characters that came to life in my room each night. His bedtime stories taught me how to dream with my eyes open, and that has been the greatest gift.
New York, NY
“Click.” The lighter ignited the candle. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you …” I stared at the flame sullenly as it flickered. My sister faced me, clapping her hands in tune with the song. “Happy birthday dear Bing … ” Her head bobbed back and forth, swaying her hair from side to side. “Come on, cheer up Bing.” She smiled. “Don’t worry about mom and dad, everything will be fine. You’re not going anywhere.” A small honey cake the size of my palm sat on a paper plate between us and a single pink candle adorned the top, bright and dainty. The two of us sat in the sun-spotted living room. My parents were not home and instead, at work. After consecutive fights and days of physical arguments, my mom declared, “Go. Take Bing with you. Leave.”
My sister had lugged herself to a neighborhood deli, purchased a seventy-five-cent pound cake, and scoured through endless drawers for a candle to construct a cake equivalent to that of any other bakery delicacy. I sat there, beaming at my companion. “Thank you,” I thought. “There would be no greater present than this.” After all, gifts are not always defined by a price tag. Whether they are material or intangible, they are valued based on sincerity, care, and thought.
Min faces me. “Bing, it’s okay. I’m here.”
And that was the most valuable gift of all.
I grinned lopsidedly.
“I love you.”
Not every gift is physical. Sometimes, it’s an emotion, a kind action, a simple word or phrase that means the most. My grandfather doesn’t speak English, really. He can carry on a simple conversation, but he never learned anything more. The language barrier has been there my whole life, and for the most part, I’ve become accustomed to it. When we’ve been together we’ve enjoyed the quiet, each doing our own thing and not caring to understand the other. Most of the time we’ve simply sat on the couch and watch Greek TV with English subtitles. It’s one experience we could always share together, language barrier or not.
I don’t know the Greek word for cancer, and I don’t care to. I don’t need to, I can see what it does. I haven’t been able to visit him in recent weeks — the bleached white hospital room against his shrinking, grey self is something I can’t bring myself to look at. His most recent stroke has rendered the right side of his face paralyzed. He can’t even speak Greek properly.
I went to visit yesterday, I swallowed my fear for his sake. He looked a little better, a little brighter than he had been.
And then he said it. His mouth jerked, the words garbled, but he said it anyways.
“I love you, too.”
The auctioneer kept up his momentum as the bidding continued. To the little girl sitting towards the back his voice sounded like a swarm of bees, and she could not understand why people kept putting their hands into the air. Finally the auctioneer stopped buzzing, “Sold, to the gentleman in the corner,” he yelled. The older man went forward to pay and claim his winnings. He turned around, but instead of returning to his seat, he proceeded toward the back where the little girl was seated. As he approached her he bent down and revealed a white, rectangular case that held a beautiful gold chain with a single white pearl on the end. “For you, beautiful girl,” he said, and handed her the necklace. This simple necklace was a significant gift, for the auction that the gentleman had participated in was to raise money for that little girl. The girl was born with cancer in her left leg which had to be amputated when she was seven weeks old. The auction was to raise money in order that she might get a prosthetic.
I was that little girl. I had never owned such a beautiful piece of jewelry, but the significance of that man’s gift to me, I did not understand then. He was helping to pay for my prosthetic leg so that I could walk. Every time I wear my necklace I remember this strangers gift to me, the gift to walk.
“Wake up! Wake up!” yelled my uncle, shaking me out of my slumber. Was it time? Was it finally here? I jumped out of bed, my eager eyes wide with excitement.
I had been waiting a year for this moment and, at five-years-old, that was a good 20% of my life. Thinking back, I remembered when I first asked my parents for it; some kids at school had one, and it seemed so exciting! Please, mom? Please, dad? I begged. I’ll love it and play with it and take it everywhere for the rest of my life, I promise. They smiled a little smile at each other, amused with my sudden but heartfelt desire, and eventually said that one magic word: yes. It would be coming soon, they let me know, and all I could do was wait …
Now my parents would be home with it any minute and the anticipation was killing me! I heard the whir of the garage door opening and squealed with delight, running toward the sound. My mom opened up, holding a small bundle in her hands. Finally, finally, I looked at her with awe for the first time as she peered open her tiny eyes, her body wrapped snuggly in a blanket, strands of hair wisping in little curls around her forehead — my baby sister.
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